Here is a selection of poems from Of Death And A Banana Skin

The Stick

By Middlesmoor I found a staff, a sturdy stick
That, shed from barren beeches, bid me bend to pick
It from the land,
To help me stand,
And more: to walk the walk I’d planned
And finish, though with aching thighs, with smiles
Novembery Nidderdale’s inspiring miles.

So stout with staff, I found a pace, a quicker pace
Cross slippery rocks. But watery whispers asked: ‘Why race
Me to the sea?
For you are free
To linger or just to stop and be.
I have a flow, and with it I must go.
Just go with yours, my dale to better know.’

And as I slowed, so slowed the dale, the Nidd, the scudding sky.
And only then saw I the heron, hare and heard the cry
From distant rocks
Of Mr Fox.
And even though he stalks
Some hapless prey, he still has time to meet my gaze
Across a dripping field on this, his hungriest of days.

And only then I saw the timid trout, who, caressed
By currents, like a breeze-blown hawk held motionless
Against the flow.
If I should throw
A playful pebble, then I know
He’ll dart into the shallow safety of the reeds.
Yes, I have slowed, but how my heart now speeds.

And as the tearoom talk of Pateley Bridge drew near,
I thought to cast the stick; just let it go with conscience clear.
But wait! Don’t throw!
Best lay it by the lane, and so
It may another weary walker lure
To march it back to Middlesmoor.

The Stick

Author reading with photographs and music (The Middlesmoor Waltz).

The Stick was an actual experience, with just a dash of poetic licence. It was composed on the move and then hurriedly scribbled on a paper bag in the tearoom in Pateley Bridge. The third and fourth stanzas were added a few days later.

Low Mill

Low Mill nestles,
Scrubbed and sandy wall to wall,
Where garden centre statuettes
Guard four-wheel drives parked up on burnished setts,
And windows with a rippled sheen
Cling close to doors in Cooking Apple Green
(A shade by Farrow & Ball).

Low Mill nestles,
Cradled in the river’s crook,
One road out and one road in,
Comfy in its cul-de-saccy skin.
‘Addingham? You’re best to walk.
But take my word, from how the lads all talk,
There’s nowt – but take a look.’

Low Mill nestles,
Cosy as the feather bed
From which you rose one misted morn
And stared me through as though since I was born
I’d worn these clothes and trudged this lane
To weave the cloth, a meagre wage to gain.
‘Ow do?’ I softly said.

Low Mill wrestles,
With its then and now, a strain
To play its game of make believe. As
Flat-capped ghosts of toiling textile weavers
Greet you well, you sense our chill.
But now, one short commute, three miles until
You take the Ilkley train.

Low Mill

Author reading. Illustration by Hilary James.

Riot at Low Mill, 1826

The now residentially desirable nook of Low Mill hides from the A65, tucked away at the end of a mile long cul-de-sac by a bend in the River Wharfe. From the last of the old weavers’ cottages, a footpath takes over from the lane to offer a pleasant stroll upstream to Addingham.
The mill itself was constructed in 1788 by John Cunliffe, and is credited as being the first successful worsted mill in the world. The workers’ cottages were built shortly afterwards. All went well until 1826 when the introduction of machinery to replace the hand loom weavers triggered riots; men intent on destroying the new technology converged from as far afield as Lancashire. An ex gratia offer of money for food was seen as no permanent solution, and, with starvation looming, a riot broke out. The building was initially defended by the management and some local workers, who eventually resorted to firearms. The next day, the then owner Jeremiah Horsfall requested, and was granted, military assistance in the form of a troop of Dragoon Guards. A stand-off ensued, with the protestors eventually marching further up the valley to attack mills in Skipton and Gargrave. Many arrests were made, with some men even being sentenced to death.
The riot at Low Mill has been cited as the first significant example of self-defence by organised labour, an episode that spawned the wider workers’ movement and eventually the birth of the Labour Party.

Reading Abbey

So shy, it hides what flinty walls remain
In corners known to few but those who may
Here dwell. But seek, and hold its stones, its clay,
And breathe once more the air of Henry’s reign.

Six miles of eager, pious toil it took
To cut from Arrowhead to Abbey Mill,
Baptising fishponds, grinding wheels until
It found the Kennet. This was Holy Brook.

Old portly Henry did his bit – oh yes!
As though the weathering years were not enough,
He took his chance by calling Roman bluff,
And played, and won at high-stakes godly chess.

While Holy Brook beneath a tarmac floor
Still flows. The Abbey walls echo no more.

Reading Abbey

Author reading. Illustration by Hilary James.

Henry I founded Reading Abbey in 1121 and it continued to operate as a religious centre until Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538. It has since been in an increasingly sorry state of repair but now reopening after extensive renovation. Holy Brook, a partial diversion of the river Kennet, was excavated by the monks to drive mill wheels and feed fish ponds.

Limericking Eccentrics

Limericking Eccentrics

Bashful nudist

Some friends of a nudist called John
Said ‘Come to a party’, whereon
He replied ‘I’m delighted
To be so invited,
But that day I’ve got something on.’

Collector of cars

A collector of cars called Ed
Could not pronounce ‘R’s, so instead
Said ‘I love Fewwawis,
But my favouwite caw is
My Wange Wover wespwayed in wed!’

Composer of comical verse

A composer of comical verse
Wrote limericks that somehow were flawed.
He rarely could rhyme
Line three and line four,
And never the first, last and second.

Syllable surplus

A wordsmith who hailed from the Humber
Said ‘What’s guaranteed to encumber
My poetic purpose
Is syllable surplus
Enforcing my use of enjambe –
… ment.’

Live reading

A couple of limmericks to a live audience…